Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day Run - 2011 Version

A year ago I did something I hadn't done on Christmas day--I went for a run. Given the 50* plus temps here today, I figured I'd take a shot a making it a tradition.

While most of my neighbors are thoughtful, socially conscientious types, a few have not bothered to shovel their walks even though the snow hit three days ago. If you want the technical definition for that type of person, I recommend consulting Websters under the term "jerk."

In any case, since I planned on (and have since) ingested copious amounts of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, I figured burning a few calories off on a long run was a good idea.

It is amazing what a difference a year can make. Since I'm still doing Z1 training, I was still pretty slow today, but unlike a year ago, my average HR was only about 135 bpm. Compare that to the 159 when I was running at sea level in Florida and you get the idea that I've made some progress. That is not to say, however, that I don't plan on making a lot more in the weeks and months ahead.

For now, I wish a very Merry Christmas to any and all readers out there and yes, I'll be back with more posts before the New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

One Year In the Blogosphere

It's hard for me to believe but my blog is a year old today. It began with this post and since then there have been 100 more. I've posted from California, Arizona, Europe and right here from my home in Colorado.

In addition, I've been viewed from Argentina, Russia, Germany, the UK and even Malaysia. In all. there have been over 3000 views which is pretty small compared to some of what I read, but still far beyond my own expectations.

It's been a real honor to have been able to share all that I've done and I can't wait to continue in the year ahead. I've gone from just hoping I could complete a sprint to targeting a 70.3 race in just over seven months. So while I may no longer be a first timer triathlete, I think I still have a lot of new experiences in front of me.

My most recent workout was a 30 mile ride and thanks to the mild weather we saw in Colorado last weekend, I got to do it all outside. The route took me west of Parker out to near Park Meadows Mall and then back on the same route.

I would have liked to take some high resolution pictures but there was no good place to carry my camera so I settled for this one on my iPhone:

This is just east of Centennial Airport. One of these times I'll get a good shot of the mountains and show how breath-taking they really are. Today just wasn't it.

I'm going to work hard this week in anticipation of a little time off around the holiday. Unlike last year's trip to Florida I'm spending my holiday here which is how I prefer it.

Ought to be able to post something between now and then however. For now, thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So How’s That Heart-Rate Training Working Out for Ya?

Two month’s ago I had this post about my start of heart-rate based training. With the exception of a few weeks when I ramped things up to prepare for the Rock Canyon Half Marathon that’s how I’ve been training. Specifically, I’ve been focused on base or endurance training in Zone 1.

Heart rate zones don’t have a standard definition, so just to level-set, I’m using the standards established in the book, “Heart Rate Training” by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly. I know there are some 5 or even 6 zone systems out there but this has just four.

Here’s a summary as explained in the book

HR Zone Effort Index Fuel Source
60% - 75%
Primarily fats
75% - 85%
Mix carbs & fats
85% - 95%
Primarily carbs
95% - 100%
All carbs

The percentages refer to percent of max heart rate. When I measured mine, it came out to 171 (for running) so for a Zone 1 workout, I’d be looking at about 103 – 128 beats per minute. The numbers change for biking and swimming, but the percentages are constant.

Furthermore, the book defines “Endurance” as how long you can keep running at any pace. That’s different than “Stamina” which is how long you can last at a specific pace. Since I’m still pretty early in the off-season (my first tri is still over five months away), I’m working the endurance phase.

It’s been harder than I thought it would be to slow myself down enough to stay within Zone 1 (or Z1)—especially when running. The bike is easier and in swimming, I’m doing my best estimate because I don’t/can’t where a heart rate monitor in the pool.

So is it having an effect? It’s kind of hard to tell. I do think it’s wise to be taking it easier this time of year. With nothing major on the horizon for a few months, I’m staying in shape but not punishing myself. The lead-up to my 70.3 race in July will be grueling, but there’s no sense in operating at that level of intensity so soon. In fact, I’d more than likely injure myself before I got into regular season training.

Tangibly, there’s not been any result to which I can point. My weight has stayed fairly constant and I have not perceived any change in my energy levels. However, I’m only on week 9 of a 21 week offseason program (it began in October right after that max heart rate test). It’s also the middle of December which means cold and dark and I think I tend to eat more than I do in warmer, brighter months.

The first week in March has me in Hawaii and I’ll be interested to see where I stand at that point. My 70.3 training begins in earnest the first week I’m back in Colorado.

Between now and then, I’ll post more about my interim progress and share anything I’ve learned.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to Build a Wetsuit Hanger

In the off-season, there's not much use for the wetsuit. Here in Colorado temperatures have only gotten above freezing a couple of times during the last week. Much as I enjoy open-water swimming, the thought of having to bring along an ice pick to clear a path as I swim is...ahem...less than appealing.

Since I finished the TriRock back in September, my suit has been kept on a large plastic hanger, like so:

 Not terrible, but I was concerned about having big pointy things on the shoulders come next spring. Pretty much the full weight of the suit is resting on the upper part of the hanger. I thought it would be better if it rested on something rounder so that there would be less chance of a crease or other unsightly deformation of the suit.

For the instructions below, keep in mind that I'm no McGyver. Some reader out there may be able to do this far better than me. That said, this works and in the end, that's all that really matters.

Step by step instructions:

1 Cut a piece of PVC pipe. I measured about a foot for this one, just keep in mind that if you use a longer one, you'll need more chain later on. Also, white or black pipe does not matter. I used this since it was left over from a bathroom remodeling project.

2 Place the pipe on about the middle of your suit after it has been folded lengthwise and then fold the top down to the bottom.

Your local hardware store sells chain by the foot. It's generally inexpensive (61 cents a foot in my case) and rated to hold far more weight than you'll need. I bought three feet for my hanger.

Feed this chain through the pipe and pull the ends up into something looking like a triangle:

4 Choosing a hook was for me, the most difficult part of the process. It needs to be large enough to hang on the typical closet clothes bar but also able to securely hold the chain. I looked some of those climbing carabiners but they did not look large enough to meet the former requirement. Ultimately, I chose a large "U" bolt:

Apologies for the shotty photography. I think you get the idea, however.

For my closet, a width of 2.5 inches was more than enough.

5 I don't have a picture of the final step (not enough hands to do this and take a picture). However screwing on the nuts is not hard. You just want to make sure you have the chain placed above the plate that connects both sides of the bolt. Hold  it in place with one hand while you screw the nuts on with the other. It will look like this when you are done:

Of course, this means that the hangers don't come off all that easily, but presumably that won't be an issue for off-season storage.

After these steps, you have a new hanger for your suit that might leave it a little folded, but won't but an unsightly crease in it:

If you have any improvements on my design, please include them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why I'm Running the HITS 70.3 Next Summer

Like many people new or newish to the sport of triathlon, I found myself looking at the 70.3 distance after having successfully completed multiple races in the Sprint and Olympic categories. Also, like many others, my initial focus was on an event run by the World Triathlon Corporation. That is to say, something called an Iron Man (or Half Iron Man more accurately).

That seemed like a fairly easy choice. WTC acquired a local race series in Boulder and added the 70.3 distance this year. Boulder is a natural choice for such an event in Colorado. It is home to top professionals and age-groupers alike. Laura and Greg Bennett recently graced the cover last summer’s USA Triathlon magazine running through Chatauqua Park with the Flat Irons in the background.

So as my first full season came to a close, I began to look at this event as the one I would target. Given that it would be my first 70.3 event, I liked the idea of doing it locally and not dealing with the difficulties of travel. I may want to do that for a future event, but not my first. No problems, right? It seemed pretty easy.

Well, not so easy after I found out about the HITS Triathlon Series.

HITS is an organization that has up-to-now been involved in putting on equine show jumping productions. Yes, you read the correctly: horse jumping. From what I read, they’ve been very successful in this arena. But what does a company associated with horse jumping shows have to do with Triathlons? Well, it turns out that the company’s founder is a bit like you and me. Tom Struzzieri is an amateur triathlete who became addicted to the sport. Unlike most of us, he already had a company that was in a position to stage the events. Combined with coach and USAT Certified Race Director Mark Wilson and Ironman legend Dave Scott, they’ve set an ambitious schedule of 12 races plus a championship.

Each race will consist of five distances. Since WTC owns the Ironman trademark, the 140.6 and 70.3 races are referred to as full and half respectively. There are also Olympic and Sprint races as well as something they call the Open. The latter is a very short race consisting of a 100 meter swim, a 3 mile bike and a 1 mile run. With a minimum entry age of just 7, you may see a lot of kids in this race, but they are encouraging any curious first-timers to participate as well. Given the number of events, the races are staged over a Saturday and Sunday at the respective locations with the two longer races taking place on Sunday. All races are also USAT certified so there is no question about authenticity or legitimacy.

Due to some construction being done at the water venue for the Galena, Illinois event, HITS announced on October 12 that they were moving it to Fort Collins, Colorado. The dates for it are July 28-29, 2012.

All right. Now you have the background. So why would this appeal to me. Well, initially it didn’t. I wanted to participate in the big, brand-named WTC event in Boulder. I even drove around the bike course one Saturday just to see it in person. I was, at that time, more convinced than ever that the Boulder event on August 5 was the one for me. However, not wanting to rush to judgment as well as not being faced with an imminent decision, I decided to give it some thought.

Part of the process meant researching a little more on the event via their website. Within a week or so of hearing about the race from my brother, they had their course maps available online—and if you’ve read me before, you know that is a major plus in my mind. Unlike its Boulder competitor, the HITS course is a single loop. It also goes through some steep but scenic territory in the mountains west of Horsetooth Reservoir and then down the Poudre Canyon. There is something to be said about not having to ride multiple laps (though the full course racers will do the circuit two times).

I also started thinking about some of the things I discussed in my post about the racing industry and the importance of getting a good value for the fees you pay. I had always associated WTC with that, but I had to question if that perception was not the result of good branding on their part as opposed to really earning the reputation. Given the fact that WTC and the Ironman brand are so highly showcased in Kona each fall, you have to ask yourself if that isn’t playing a role. Shoe companies, airlines, computer makers and many others enjoy great market share because of brand awareness. But does that actually make them the best?

Then I read this post on DC Rainmaker’s site about how WTC had been preemptively cancelling events to avoid a “sizable loss.” I didn’t really think that would be a concern for the sold-out race in Boulder, but the practice sticks in my craw. It’s the kind of thuggish behavior a company that dominates a market ought to avoid if for no other reason than there will come a day when they won’t be the only player in that space.

Ironman Boulder to make a point would be disingenuous. In fact, I am planning on participating in another WTC production: the local version of the 5150 series, the Boulder Peak Triathlon. If the HITS had not come to Colorado, I probably would also be looking to register for the WTC event. I’ve also had my eye on doing some of their out-of-town races in the future. Ultimately, this is a decision I’m making as a consumer, not as an advocate for better treatment of triathletes.

That point leads me to a philosophy that Tom Struzzieri expressed in this interview with He’s approaching this race series with a focus on customer service and meeting the demands of those customers. He’s not deigning to “let” racers participate in his vaunted event, but rather doing all he can to earn their patronage. To quote from the interview:

We do and will endeavor to treat each customer as if he or she is the most important.

As I said, I’m not about making statements or standing up for a cause. If that’s your thing fine, but it’s not really my style. However, participating in HITS does provide what I would call ancillary benefits. First, I get to participate in an inaugural event. Should this take off, I get to be one of the ones who was there first. Second, while it’s not a cause, I do believe in a competitive market place and if the benefits of participating in HITS align with my demands, then I’m happy my participation promote that competition. If nothing else, it might help keep entry fees in check. Third, I’m an admirer of the scrappy upstart. Nearly every successful company today has that story to tell—just think of Apple Computer. I can’t help but respect the audacity of a firm that has essentially decided to go head-to-head with the 800 pound gorilla that is WTC.

All this said, there are certainly some risks including some that might be so critical as to cause me to end up registering for another race instead. While the first event went off successfully in Palm Springs on the weekend of December 3 and 4, that is no guarantee that future events will run as smooth. Nor is it an assurance that field of 1000 participants will show up at every race. If the Fort Collins event were canceled in a few months due to low registration, there’s a pretty good chance that the Ironman Boulder event will already be sold out and to the best of my knowledge, there are no other 70.3 events in the state again until September.

So…yeah…there’s some risk involved. But on balance, I think the potential rewards outweigh the risks. The Boulder event sported some 1300+ athletes last year and even with a wave start, that makes for a pretty crowded swim. By comparison, the two longer distance events in the Palm Springs HITS race totaled 139 finishers. No doubt that will grow if the race is successful and a summer event may also draw more participants, but it’s still likely to be a less crowded start and transition area. Additionally, this course looks remarkable. Challenging, but remarkable. Horsetooth Reservoir’s site between steep hills is far more scenic. The bike course is steep—dauntingly so. But it’s also through some of the most beautiful land in the entire country. How often do you get to do any part of a tri in the mountains?

So for now, count me in. I’ll be watching with interest to see of the January 6 and 7 event in Naples, Florida is as successful as Palm Springs was. Assuming it is, I’ll be ready to pony up my $250 and set my sights on Northern Colorado in late July.

I plan on talking a lot more about this event including a post that will (hopefully) include the video I shot of the bike course.

For now, thanks for reading and happy training!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Race Report - Rock Canyon Half Marathon

I capped off last week's training with a fairly productive 11 mile run in my home town of Greeley. I did the out and back course at an average pace of 9:34 so it gave me some optimism for the upcoming Rock Canyon half marathon in Pueblo the following week. Then I checked the weather forecast.

What has started off as a high of 43 degrees slowly deteriorated as the week went by until by Friday, the forecast high was expected to be around 25* and with windchill, that would drop it down to 11*. There was, in all honesty, a moment where I considered not running it. Ultimately, however, I needed to make my training worth it and what the's a good war story.

Getting to Pueblo from Parker proved to be some of the most exciting part of my day. I left home in a fairly good snow storm with more than a little of it sticking to the roads. Once on I-25 heading south, I found myself behind three snow plows. Good since they were clearing the road (mostly) but bad because we were only going 30 - 35 mph and I had almost a hundred miles to go.

Fortunately, I cleared Monument Hill to find clearer, even drier roads and I arrived at my brother's home just about right at the 8:00 I had expected. By now, it had begun to snow again and the thermometer in my car was indeed reading 25*.

While this race starts and stops in Pueblo's City Park, the staging was done out of a community center located in the middle which means that were able to stay out of the elements not only while picking up our bibs and sweatshirts, but also during the time before the race. That also meant there were indoor restrooms, a real plus!

Time seemed to go by quickly and before I knew it, I was standing outside with over 500 of my closest friends. That's actually low since this race sold out to its cap of 750 but I'm guessing there were more than a few out-of-towners who did not want to brave the elements.

Though I was concerned about slipping and sliding, I actually did okay on the snow packed roads as the pack made two turns around the park before heading downhill to the path that runs along the Arkansas River. I was somewhat familiar with this route because much of it is used in the Spring Runoff which I ran back in March. That said, we weren't too far into the race before we went off the paved trail and onto what I would best describe as a jeep trail. That is, two ruts with some growth in between.

Being well dressed in multiple layers, I was warm against the chilly air, and to this point, the wind was only a breeze and it was one that was not penetrating my cold weather gear. That changed somewhere along the mile four of five point. The race is so named because this section of the Arkansas River Valley is lined but sheer rock bluffs. It's not a canyon in the strictest sense, but you understand where the name came from. As the wind came over the northern bluff, it did so with a lot of ferocity. Sort of like it had been pent up. Regrettably, all of us running got to feel it's wrath.

Despite the wind and fairly rough course, I was still averaging right around a 9:30 or so pace.  I was starting to feel it a little bit, but I still thought I could maintain. Then I hit the 10 mile marker and the wind that had been annoying at first was now blowing pretty much right as me and in the process, slowing me way down. I pretty much lost all momentum at this point and was really now just hoping to finish under 2:10.

Another thing happened on the way home. I had been told that there was a big hill near the end of the race. In fact, I even ran down it since after the first two miles this is an out and back course. But nothing can prepare you for actually running a hill other than actually running it. This one was a monster. Probably not the steepest hill I've ever run, but definitely the steepest I've done after already having run over 12 miles. My HR monitor had me at 163 bpm once I made it to the top.

I managed to struggle across the finish line at 2:09:26 which was off the 2:05 I hoped for, but not terrible either. The conditions were among the rougher I've done. It is, after all, an event in December.

So as for the race itself:

The bad (or just not so good):

Course: This is a small event so closing off huge stretches of public streets is not really an option. However, I nearly twisted an ankle on the jeep trail sections and some others actually did. It's one thing to have a trail, but another to have one with big rocks that threaten the health of the participants. I think someone should look at keeping more of this race on the paved bike path. I even managed to come up with my own variation here.

That's other criticisms from me.

The good:

Registration Fee: At just $35 including a sweatshirt and finishers medal, plus plenty of food, energy drink and water before and after the race, this is one of the best deals out there. Today's Rock 'N' Roll Las Vegas is about $100 more.

Pre-Race Info: Plenty of it on the Southern Colorado Runners website including a course map. This isn't hard to do but kudos to the director for providing useful information.

Support & Volunteers: Much as I didn't want to run in the bitter cold, I can only imagine how tough it was to just stand in it. The volunteers were ready with water or energy drink at each of the many stations along the route. It was outstanding and my hat's off to their efforts. It was also nice to return to a plethora of food including cookies, donuts, and bananas. I was bonking pretty bad by the end and it all hit the spot!

Timely Results: Results have been posted on the SoCo Runners site and that's pretty impressive since this whole deal is being done without timing chips.

Scenery: I think this course would be very pretty in warmer months when the foliage is out. The twists and turns along the Arkansas River are enjoyable and even when you're struggling to keep your heart rate down, you can't help but enjoy the venue. I just wish more of it was on a flat surface.

Will I be back. Probably. I'm hurting pretty bad today having done much of the race in Z3. I'm fortunate not to have twisted my ankle which are prone to that sort of thing anyway. Those hazards may be the one factor that would keep me out in a future race. On the other hand, I think this might be a fast course if the wind and snow were not factors.

In any case, I'm glad to be done with this one and have a great war story to tell. "Did I tell you about the time I did a half marathon in 11 degree wind chill?" Sounds good, huh?

Now it's back to Z1 training with longer, slower runs. I'm also looking forward to spending more time on the bike and in the pool. I won't feel like I'm neglecting race training but spreading out my training variety a little more.

The next race report for me probably won't happen until April when I'm fairly certain I'll be doing the Horsetooth Half Marathon in Fort Collins. This was not on my original 2012 schedule, but a good chunk of it runs on the same course as the HITS run course so it will be a good chance to see just what I've gotten myself into!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Race Report - Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day Run

I have no idea when the first "Turkey Trot" was held or what the genesis for the idea was. But regardless of that, I think it's a tradition that is almost as great as Thanksgiving itself. What better way to start a day by pre-burning a few of the calories you'll be shoveling in later.

We were blessed with a great day here in Northern Colorado. While a chilly twenty-some degrees greeted me when I left my parents' house, the rising sun quickly warmed things to the low fifties by the time I arrived in downtown Fort Collins. Despite multiple street closures, parking was easy for me to find, as it always is.

Past readers to this blog know one of my biggest criticisms of race directors is lack of organization. So in that vein I have to give the directors of this one a lot of credit for having a very smooth running operation. Race headquarters was the Beach House Grill which was just a block or so from the starting line. Participants were routed through the back of the restaurant and then upstairs where you gave them your race number (previously e-mailed) and then you received your packet and a long-sleeve tech shirt. The latter is a nice touch for a race that takes place right before the start of winter.

One criticism I have was the porta-potty to racers ratio. Based on their own estimates of 2400 racers, I figured that ratio at about 1:600. While I wasn't late for the start, I expect some people in line behind me were.

This is not the kind of race where I'm looking for a PR or trying to leave a trail of fire behind me. It's supposed to be fun so I kept it in that min as I slowly worked my way around a lot of people who should not have started in the front of the pack. During this early phase, I saw what was perhaps one of the more entertaining sights in a race: a dog with a Go Pro HD camera mounted to his back. I may have to search You Tube later to see if that got posted.

The race course is mostly straight and very flat. Though you do gain some altitude on the outbound portion of the single loop, it's hardly noticeable. While not looking to set any records, I also hoped to run a sub 9:00 pace and noticed myself about 15 seconds behind that as I passed the two mile mark. This was no doubt to the slow pace I had to keep at the beginning of the run.

I managed to pick things up a bit more in the second half and actually was running in the low to middle 8:00 range as I headed east on Mountain Avenue back toward downtown and the finish line.

At the end, I turned in a 34:46 time (based on my Garmin) and that works out to about 8:41 with which I was pleased. While I would have appreciated a bottle of water rather than waiting in line to fill a cup from a Gatorade cooler, I understand that sponsors don't always come up with what you need. No harm done. To their credit, there were plenty of bagels and orange wedges.

So here's my take on the race overall:

The bad (or really just not so good):

Porta-potties: A lot of folks just gotta go before they run. I don't doubt that the sanitation companies get more than a few bucks per unit delivered, but there's a basic responsibility to provide this most basic of services when you are gathering hundreds of people into one area.  I may  have missed another grouping of them (though I did look around a bit) but didn't see any. There should have been something more like ten rather than the four I found.

Website: Count this as just not so good rather than bad. The race details were found on a link to a PDF document that you then had to rotate to read. I don't think you need a really elaborate website with lots of Flash technology or music and video, but the online flyer seemed a little cheap to me. Also, it would be nice to see a course map and not just a set of written directions.

The Good:

Pre-Race Information: A few days ahead of time, I got details with my race number and pick-up times. They made pick-up available both on race day as well as the afternoon before. This was a well organized process and it made my pick-up a task I was able to complete in about two minutes.

Course:  Flat, mostly straight and well supported. There's no need to make a fun run course a challenging cross-country meet. This one covers four miles in a single loop and start line congestion clears out rather quickly.

Shirt: As I mentioned, a long sleeve tech shirt is a nice touch during the colder months. Nice to get something I'll actually wear now rather than three months from now. I've also noticed a trend in most races away from cotton shirts toward tech shirts. I like it. I don't need another cotton shirt.

Results: I found my official time last evening with no problem. In the era of chip timing, there's no reason this shouldn't be the case. It was still a good thing to see however. We were using the older ChampionChip system and I have to wonder if this won't be one of the last times as it seems more races are using bib-based systems.

Overall Experience: It's been five years since I last did this race, but my positive recollections were confirmed. It's well organized, has a good course and the four mile distance is one I prefer over a 5K. I never know where I'll be from one Thanksgiving to the next, but I do know that when I'm in Northern Colorado, this one will be on my list.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2012 Race Schedule

It's around this time of year that a lot of bloggers start talking about their 2012 race schedule. While those of us in colder climates still have about six months before any races start, the time to at least think about what you want to do in the coming year is now. Hence, here I am discussing what I want to do next year.

Of the races I considered, one, the 70.3, took precedence in the schedule It's the race for which my training plan has been written. It is my "A" race for the year. There are some others that I've wanted to repeat for different reasons and some that just fit well. Also, there are some that are not listed, most specifically something around July 4 and of course, a Thanksgiving day event. Those are more "for fun" races that don't really mark milestones.

The Summer Open Sprint – May 19
This was scheduled to be my very first triathlon last year until e coli levels in Union Reservoir spiked to four times the safe limit and they converted it to a duathlon. Nostalgia about my first ever multi-sport event combined with a desire to do all three events is the driving factor. Here’s hoping lightning doesn’t strike twice and the swim is on as scheduled.

The BolderBoulder – May 28
Can’t pass this one up. It’s a tradition and it’s also my most-run race. Truth be told, there’s almost no where I’d rather be than in Boulder on Memorial Day. Plus, how do you beat a finish into the football stadium of your Alma Matter?

Greeley Triathlon – June 10
Hands down, it was the best organized race I ran last year. What’s more, it has a super fast, 500 meter swim course. I underestimated how hard the bike would be last year so I’m looking to make some improvements. This is also the only race I ran with wetsuit strippers, a major plus in my mind.

Boulder Peak Olympic – July 8
This is part of WTC’s 5150 series of Olympic Triathlons. WTC has suffered a well-deserved bad-rap because of their handling of 5150 events--most notably, preemptively cancelling them because of low registration. For more details on that check out this DC Rainmaker post:
Given Boulder’s place as one of the pre-eminent triathlon locations in the world, I’m not concerned about this event being canceled. I’m still not a big fan about some of WTC’s business practices, but this fits well in my schedule and the Boulder Reservoir and surrounding back roads venue are enticing.

HITS 70.3 – July 29
This is the big one. It’s the race around which my training is being built. I wondered about attempting such a challenging race, especially after struggling with the run leg of the Creek Streak last year. However, more positive experiences at the TriRock and Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon have persuaded me that it’s worth the effort. This one has a pretty steep climb on the bike ride through the mountains west of Fort Collins and also a couple of nasty hills on the out-and-back run course, but I think it’s going to be good. It was between this one and the Boulder Half-Ironman which is a week later…obviously not wise to try both. I’ll talk more about my decision to choose HITS over WTC in a future post.

Rattlesnake Olympic - August 19

I’m putting this on the list, but I’m going to think about it a little more. I may find I want nothing to do with it after HITS, but for now I’m going to leave it there. Being that this event is held at the Aurora Reservoir, it’s the closest one to home I’ve ever run. Not right next door, but less than a 30 minute drive away which would be a first.

Buffalo Bicycle Classic – September 9
My Alma Matter hosts a Century Ride each September and I’ve wanted to try one for a while. Unlike more competitive events, this looks like a good time to just ride around. Not to dismiss the challenge of riding 100 miles, but no clock on this one.

Rock 'n' Roll Denver Half Marathon - September 22
My love/hate relationship with Competitor Group continues. They get a lot of change to enter this one, but the course through downtown and around various central Denver parks is hard to beat. It’s also well-organized and is the site of my half marathon PR. It ought to be a nice way to close out the season

So that's the list which makes for five triathlons, two running races and a Century ride. As they say in military circles, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. With that in mind, I haven't gone and chiseled any of this in stone. Any number of things could happen between now and then so I'll be ready for changes. But for now, this is the course I'm charting and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Still Got It

With the Rock Canyon half marathon three weeks out I've switched from a focus on heart-rate back to my more traditional pace-based training. That means a series of long runs, specifically 9, 10 and 11 miles with the 13.1 of the half being the last one. That worked for the Rock & Roll so I'm hoping to repeat my success.

Today was the first of those with nine miles. And I have to say I was pleased. I made good time and logged 9.26 miles over 90 minutes. I also averaged over 145 bpm which is well into Z3, but since I felt no shortness of breath or heavy legs (a sure sign of lactic acid build up) I'm not concerned.

No doubt I'll be returning to HR training including a lot more Z1 work, but only after the race is behind me.

In other news, I think I just about have my 2012 race schedule ready. It took some digging, but I think I've got some good races picked. Some repeats and and some new ones. Yes, 70.3 is still on the agenda.

More on that in a new post.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Long Week = Bike

My off-season training plan is something of a mutt. I've adopted a lot of other plans and put some of my own touches on them. One of the former is the variation on which discipline is the long one of the week. This week, that was the bike.

It was not the warmest of days but not bad either. I opted to wear a technical shirt and my running jacket but stayed with just shorts. It's pretty rare that my legs get chilly.

The recently tightened strap on my HR monitor helped, but about a mile and a half in, I found it spiking again. I stopped and tightened it some more but it still gave me fits until I had warmed up. This lead to a new discovery, my running jacket fits a little bit loosely so when going faster, it flaps around a bit. At the same time, my HR monitor spikes. I noticed this when I was going down the steepest hill on the ride and was not pedaling yet my HR shot way up. My theory is that the jacket is generating static electricity which is in turn interfering with the monitor. I noticed if I pulled my arms in close to my body, the effect went away.

All in all, it was a good ride and the longest I've been out on the bike in quite a while. I don't doubt my ability to do outside rides will continue to be hampered by the coming winter, but I'll enjoy these days when I can.

In other news, I'm five weeks away from the Rock Canyon Half Marathon in Pueblo. My brother has done this one a few times and has been encouraging me to do it for years. It ought to be nice to have a big event in the off-season when there is not much else going on. Once that's done, I'll be going back to more Z1 training and building that base up as I get ready for the 70.3 event next summer.

More later...thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

HR Training Updates

Been a while since I posted so here's a little summary in chronological order:

Saturday morning I was back at the Parker Rec Center to my swimming MHR test. Since my FR305 is not water proof (at least in any practical sense for swimming) and since ANT+ heart rate straps have a range of something like three inches in the water, this one had to be done without that.

Per the method described in Heart Rate Training, I began with a 500 meter warm up at a moderate pace. It was a nice opportunity to work solely on technique with no concern for speed. Once that was done, I began a series of 100 yard swims as fast as I could with 30 seconds rest in between. At the end of the third set, I took my heart rate which turned out to be 145 bpm.  Like my other tests, I was thoroughly exhausted at the end so I'm fairly confident I'm hitting the max.

Since then I've been doing the running and biking in Z1 and I have to admit it seemed easy. Too easy in fact. Today on my run, less than 10 minutes in, I just knew I was not getting a good reading. I was barely jogging and was jumping into Z2. Something I re-read in the book stuck with me. Monitors get artificially high readings from friction. Like the friction you get when your monitor is moving up and down on your chest. My guess (though not proven) is that the friction is creating a small static-electric charge that it is in turn interfering with the monitor's ability to read the electrical activity of the heart. So I stopped, tightened the strap up and voila, no more problem.

Once that was done, I made the run a little more interesting by employing the fartlek method of training. What? No not that! It's Swedish and roughly translates to "speed play." I cycled between 60% and 75% of my MHR. That works much better now that I have good readings. As you can see below, the data smoothed out once I tightened the strap:

The rest of the variability is the fartleking.

I'm looking forward to a long ride on Saturday, my first in a very long time.  More on that plus my plans for a late-fall/early-winter half marathon in a future post.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bike MHR Test

While still not balmy, it was calm enough today to do my cycling workout in the great outdoors as well as incorporate my MHR test into it.

I've had a lot of trouble with my heart-rate monitor on the bike. Specifically, it tends to give erroneously high readings, especially in cool weather. I've tried to mitigate this problem by using contact jelly (the same stuff you see them put on de-fib paddles right before they yell "CLEAR!" on T.V.) and that sometimes helps and sometimes does not.

The best solution is to have a layer of sweat between your skin and your heart-rate monitor. Unfortunately, I'm usually headed down hill to start my rides and hence no sweat for a while.

Today, I did manage to start getting normal readings right before heading up the somewhat steep hill that runs west from the intersection of Jordan and E-470. After dodging the right turning cars that invariably don't look for cyclists in the cross-walk, I quickly increased my cadence to 120 rpm and went as hard as I could. The heart-rate kept climbing and I kept feeling more and more miserable, but it finally peaked out at 154.  I think I got a pretty good test and just like Saturday, by the time I hit the max rate, I really had nothing left. The bike MHR is 90% of the run and that sounds about right.

I still need to review the book about the test for the swim MHR, but this one will not involve using a monitor since they generally do not work in the water and my FR305 is not waterproof in any case.

On the return trip of my out and back workout, I kept my speed slow and focused on staying in Z1 which is 92 to 115 bpm. It seems a little easier than running, but we'll see if that is true on future workouts.

Still lots more to come on all of this....stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heart Rate Training Begins

There's no question that this is going to present some unanticipated challenges.

This afternoon I haded out on a 40 minute run with the single goal of staying in Zone I. With my MHR of 171 that meant keeping my heart rate between 103 and 128 bpm which is quite a bit lower than what I've previously considered normal.

The very beginning of the run proved to be challenging in this regard. I kept going way over the top limit with minimal effort. In fact, I slowed to a walk a few times just to make sure the rate went back down.

It took more than a mile, but I finally settled into a more stable pattern and though the pace was much slower than anything I've done lately, I also didn't feel like I had to walk to stay in my zone.

In this zone, I should be burning mostly fat so it will be interesting to see if my body fat % declines as I continue in Z1. My Withings Wi-Fi scale had that reading at 12.3% this morning.

I'm going to have to give some thought to how I start out these runs as well. I think there's a point of increased HR activity at the very beginning that needs to be considered.

While a little frustrating, I'm still fairly intrigued by the process so I hope to have more to share as I progress,

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Weekend in the High Country

My week off is coming to a close and I spent the last couple of days of it here in the Red Feather Lakes area at my parents' mountain home.

We're long past aspen watching--I think that probably peaked two or three weeks ago, but it's always picturesque up here. We did a drive up Deadman Road yesterday afternoon and enjoyed the beauty that's pretty much a year-round event in this part of the world.

The picture below doesn't really show it, but the wind was fierce.

We had a couple of good dinners--jambalaya and chicken mole tortas--but alas the work on both was a little too intense to take the time for photos and add posts to the cooking site. Fear not, they'll eventually make it there after I get some time to set it up a little more carefully.

I finished the main sections of Heart Rate Training and it includes a really good training plan for 70.3 length races. My hope is to do a max HR test for the bike when I return home to Parker this afternoon. Right now, the weather looks a little crappy for riding (windy according to but hopefully it will be tolerable enough.

I've got a lot more to share on the HR training front including how I hope to use the authors' technique for building my own plan as well as how I do in staying with the HR zones. In the meantime, I need to pack up and get going. We woke up this morning to this:

Very pretty, but also a sure sign it's time to get going before we get stuck up here!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

MHR Test

I had mentioned in a previous post that I did not plan to do any workouts this week. However, it was a good week to a test that involved working out. Specifically, today was the day to do my maximum heart rate (MHR) test.

As I go into the off-season, my new training plan is built around heart rate rather than distance. It's evident from everything I read both from experts as well as from fellow-triathletes in the online community that it's a smart way to train. No doubt some challenges will be presented, but I'm encouraged by what I've read and hopefully that means a stronger showing next year.

Since HR training is based on the baseline of a max heart rate, I needed to find that first. Old school thinking around the MHR was based on the formula:

MHR = 220 - Age
However, that apparently only works when you are in a fairly narrow average. For me, that number would be 178. Instead of relying on that, I went out to the track at nearby Legend High School and tested myself there.

I rode my mountain bike there and that gave me a bit of a warm up. Once I was ready to go, I did a couple of easy laps around the track just to bring my heart rate up into the 140 to 150 zone. As I started into lap 3, I picked up the pace moving into the low to mid six minute range. That moved up to the sub six and finally into the low 5 range. I was breathing pretty hard and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I kept pushing as hard as I could to keep moving my HR up. Finally, just after completing my third lap, I could not move the needle any more and I slowed down and walked out the remainder to cool down. My number? It turned out at 171 beats per minute. For those of you keeping score at home, that's almost 4% lower than what the formula predicted. I actually thought I was going to be more like 180 but as you can see from the chart below, I really did plateau around the 170 mark:

I think it will make sense to test again in a few months and, of course, I need to do a separate test for the bike. However, that flat line at the top (right before the abrupt stop to recover) seems to me to be a pretty strong indicator. 

By the way, I'm also in the process of reading the book "Heart Rate Training" by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly and am about halfway though it. So far,  recommend it. I'm learning a lot about how the body develops in reaction to training as well as some really good tips about how to train. 

Not sure when I'll get the bike test done, but hopefully on Monday. While it would be nice to know the same info for swimming, I don't think I'll worry about that for now. I'm actually feeling pretty good about the swim and any progress I make there will be incremental.

I expect I'll be back at the Legend High School track for more testing and training. I do admire a good track after my high school years training on a crumby old cinder track. This one was nice and smooth.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Year of Accomplishments

I'm into my first week of doing nothing. That's right, not an athletic thing at all. It's been about a year in the works and I really think I deserved this one. I may ice down my knee and foot, but that's about it.

To get some appreciation, it helps to look back to where I was nearly a year ago when I decided I had given my foot enough time since the surgery and it was time to start exercising again. It was also when I decided--at least in the back of my mind--that I was going to attempt a triathlon.

There was a lot of inertia to overcome. Here's the summary from that first run:

That's right, all of two miles and at a blistering 11:00 minute pace. I also tipped the scale at 222 that day which was actually down a few pounds from a high of 225.

But as Confucius said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So did mine.

In the twelve months that have followed, Ive put in a total of 467 miles including the 13.1 that I ran yesterday. I've also ridden the bike 1942 miles and swam just over 50. I've also improved my swim time from something like 2:40 per 100 yards to a fairly consistent 2:00 as of my most recent trip to the pool on Wednesday. I've also managed to shed about 32 of those pounds and feel confident I can loose another 10 or so before my biggest race next year. Well before if I can help it.

With any endeavor like this one, there's always the question of will I continue to stay with it. One year is great, but how about five....or ten. I do think that Triathlons have given me a new-found enthusiasm. It's not just pounding the pavement everyday. It's multi-sport and it's very engaging. That in itself is not motivation, but it helps.

The other helper: success. I knew I had run a pretty fast half marathon yesterday and in fact I went screaming into the finish thanks to being able to literally run down capitol hill. But it gets better. I PR'd! My new time of 2:06:51 (per the official results on the website) beats my previous best of 2:07:02. Incidentally, that was set on the same course five years ago.

My figurative journey of a thousand miles has really only just begun. I still consider myself a first timer because I keep finding new challenges. Now it's a 70.3. That's going to provide a ton of fodder for this blog and as always, hopefully it will provide readers with a chance to learn the easy way, what I learned the hard way.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Race Report - 2011 Rock & Roll Half Marathon

For the past five months or so, my main enemy in training and racing has been heat. It pretty much killed me on the Creek Streak and shortened a few runs and rides to less than what I set out to accomplish. So when the snow was falling yesterday and the temperature on my car thermometer this morning was all the way down to 32*, I knew I was going to be in for a fairly significant change. The question was, how would I handle it?

My backyard around 11:00 yesterday, 10/8

I actually registered for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon way back in like June or July. It was cheaper to start early and it was also good to have it on my radar as the season progressed. I had done a little bit of reading on the website, but things were kind of at a stand still until I went to the Expo on Friday.

You have to give Competitor Group their due. They organize a packet pick-up as well as anyone I've seen and well they should given the large turnout for their races. Friday afternoon was no exception. I made my way through the stations that involve packet and swag pick-up and then onto the Expo itself. It's actually a pretty savvy business move on their part to require each athlete to come to the Expo to pick up their stuff. I'm sure it's a selling point when they want to get exhibitors to buy booth space.

The exit from the packet area put you in a large area dedicated to selling event-specific merchandise.  Brooks is one of their big sponsors and they had set up this area to promote their products:

Personally, I don't think a freak show or even free skee-ball is the best way to sell running products so I did not go in. All told, I thought the expo was a little lack-luster. Mostly it was dominated by Nutrilite which is some kind of Amway spin-off that sells vitamins or supplements or something. Not interested.

All told, I did end up purchasing one souvenir that is particularly useful on the afternoon after a race:

I didn't stay long and soon I was on my way back home to rest and relax leading up to this morning.

I'm afraid I don't have any event-day pictures to share. The blog's chief photographer (aka: my wife) was given the day off given the 5:30 departure time. She's been out there for just about everything else and it was a little too cold to ask her to come out and stand around for a couple of hours. Just as well.

As I mentioned, it was cold here in Parker this morning but things had warmed up to a balmy 42* by the time I parked at the Auraria campus garage and began the 1 mile walk to the start area.

A carry-over from the years when this race was the Denver Marathon is a gear check at no extra charge. It's a good idea and a nice way to be able to wear warm clothes until it's time to start. I would guess more than 90% of participants take advantage of this service and there were big crowds gathered to check things in with less than 10 minutes before the first wave went out. Not helping things was a big semi-truck from none other than Nutrilite parked right in front off the drop off tables forcing everyone to line up to one side or another.

At long last, my gear was checked, I had fought through the crowds and positioned myself in Coral #8 which is for those expecting a finish time of 2:10. The wave start makes sense because 14th Street is on the narrow side and more so due to some maintenance going on there. When my group left, we had a clear field in front of us. As I turned off of Bannock and onto 14th, I remembered that four weeks ago I was doing a tri in San Diego. Now I'm doing a half-marathon in Denver. Life's pretty good!

The first third of this course is a tour of downtown. There were no radical departures and we went by both Pepsi Center and Coors Field as well as through the canyons of downtown. A left turn onto 17th Avenue faces you with the steepest hill of the course. My rough calculations have it at about a 4.6% grade but it feels worse mainly because you can't see the top as you climb. If you know the area, it's where 17th Avenue goes by the Wells Fargo "cash register" building.

Fortunately, the run from there is flat and reasonably fast. I was finding that the miles were going by quickly and I still felt good. I was also making a point of trying not to look at my Garmin too much.

A left turn on York had us running along the west side of City Park. At the corner of 21st Avenue and York, we made a right turn into the park itself where the course would be for the next few miles. A short young woman, probably pushing five feet if that, decided to stop right in front of me to pick up the Gu pouch she dropped and nearly got plowed over. For that matter, a lot of people stopped in the middle of the pack or right at the front of the water station. It makes me appreciate triathletes all the more because I don't recall seeing that nonsense in any of those races this year.

Out of the park and back onto 17th Avenue for the last part of the race. I started to get a little concerned as I went by mile 9 and my watch said 9.18. I know I don't run a perfectly straight line but I had been focusing on running the tangents and adding as little extra distance as possible. It cleared up around mile 10 leading me to believe that the issue was their placement of the marker and not my running.

At this point, I saw two big challenges remaining. First, was the run up York Street (south rather than north now) to Cheesman Park. You do gain about 78 feet in less than a mile and unlike the hill before mile four, it's more drawn out. However, this turned out not to be too bad and the right turn on to the flat stretch on 13th Avenue came up faster than I expected. Second was the run through Cheesman Park itself. Although physically impossible, it felt almost like the whole loop was uphill. You enter the park on an uphill, turn down for a fairly short stretch and then run uphill again to leave the park. There was no question that the second hill hurt a little bit.

The best news of all after leaving the park is that you only have 1.1 miles to go and it's all downhill. I think that is a great way to end a race. Several people around me, as well as me, started pushing the pace. There are enough tall buildings in the way that when you make the right off of 13th Avenue and onto Sherman Street, you still can't hear the PA announcer. That changes once you turn left onto 14th Avenue in front of the south side of the State Capitol.

Could I ever hear the announcer. He was shouting with a lot of enthusiasm. What was going on? No way he would be showing the level of energy for everyone who was finishing the half in a little over two hours. Turns out, the full marathon winner was just in front of me and in the process of setting a course record.

As for me, well the down hill was really down hill at this point and I was flying toward the finish with a big goofy smile on my face both for being nearly done and for finishing ahead of my 2:10 goal. The final number on the day was 2:06:53 or about a 9:37 pace. I felt really good. Not the usual I think I'm going to faint that often comes with the end of the race, but that "runners high."

With that finish, my 2010/2011 season comes to an end. I'm taking the next week completely off and then I start a new plan for my off season conditioning. The biggest decision, pending the outcome of this race was whether or not to attempt a 70.3 next year. And.....yup. Going to give it a shot. That's a hell of a hill to climb, but I have 10 months.

There's a lot to talk about regarding how much I accomplished during the last year, and I'm thinking that will be the subject of another post this week.

I know this has gotten to be a lengthy post, but it would not be a race report if I did not do the good and bad.

The bad:

Price:  This sucker is expensive at something like $130 (and that was discounted). Gotta love the venue and all of the bands, but that's a lot of change.

Pre-Race Info: When I did the Rock&Roll San Diego, they had an okay map, but they also had a video of the course shot from a car and played back at high speed. Now that seemingly every large metro area in the country has a Rock & Roll event, the website has become generic and only gets informative in the two weeks leading up to the event. They really ought to be using MapMyRun, Gmap-Pedeometer or a comparable service to provide course maps and details. Additionally, the turn-by-turn directions were wrong in a couple of places. Not a problem for a local like me, but I can see how an out-of-towner could get confused.

Expo: If you're going to force me to go, make it worth my while with something other than the weird Brooks carnival thing a bunch of lack-luster vendors. Do I really want to go by the State Farm tent? If the vendors want to keep me interested, start slinging the free stuff like water bottles, etc. Not the biggest deal, but sometimes these things just fall flat.

The Good:

Organization: The lack of pre-race communication not withstanding, things went off pretty well this morning. It was easy to check my stuff, easy to get to the start and there were no problems following the course. It helps when there are thousands of people out there, but still, no questions about it. Also, water, Cytomax and Gu were plentiful and adequately spaced.

Venue: Rock & Roll more or less inherited this course from the original Denver Marathon, but they've done a good job of not screwing it up. In fact, moving the start from Broadway to Bannock in front of the City & County building is a nice touch. What's more, they took some time to actually put some pretty good bands on the course. I liked all of the music I heard and I think the performers were really into supporting the runners. That's no easy thing when your audience is changing every 10 seconds!

X-Factor: No not the singing competition that looks just like American Idol to me. It's the intangible quality that makes it fun to run a race. It probably comes about as the result of all the little things like bands, enthusiastic supporters, helpful volunteers and the professionalism of the race staff. Whatever it is, this race has it and I leave it with fond memories.

Overall, I would like to return and do this one next year and would recommend it to others (specifically the half since I've never done the full). Denver has had trouble keeping its Marathon as a going concern. I do like that Competitor adds a vibrancy and vitality that suggest this will be an annual tradition for years to come.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Neapolitan Pizza Dough

On my trip to Italy last summer, I became particularly enthralled with the local version of pizza. I had already had some exposure through a place in Boulder called Pizzeria Locale where they do the completely authentic wood-fired thing.

For us mere cooking mortals, this recipe might be the next best thing. It is not, strictly speaking, my own, but rather a combination of others I've found around the web.

Step 1: Yeast Preparation

Just about any baking project means getting your yeast going. I know there are recipes out there that just have you add it to the flour mix, but I'm convinced this works better.

In a small bowl, add a teaspoon of your basic household yeast such as Fleishmann's.

To this add about 3/4 of a cup of very warm but not hot water. If you can't run your hand under it, it's too hot. Mix the yeast and water until the yeast if fully dissolved.

The key distinction I found in Neapolitan dough is the use of cake flour. I suspect you could also use sifted flour but not owning a sifter, I settled for a brand like this:

Since we're already using our own yeast, you want to make sure it's not a self-rising type.

Any of this can be done by hand, but if you have one of these bad boys with a dough hook, it will make the process easier and much faster.

While your yeast is doing its thing, combine a half cup of the cake flour and a full cup of regular all-purpose flour. Too add a little taste, you can also add a teaspoon of salt. I think kosher salt is best:

Start the mixer (or your arm if you don't have one) to combine the dry ingredients.

Once that is done, slowly add your yeast liquid.

If the result is not a nicely formed dough ball, slowly add a little more warm water. Ultimately you want dough that is tacky. That is to stay it will feel sticky but when you pull your finger away, no dough sticks to it.

A dough ball that is ready to rise looks about like this

In a medium sized glass or plastic bowl, add a little olive oil, about a table spoon. This will prevent the dough from sticking as it rises and also impart a little bit of flavor.

Mix your dough around in the oil to fully coat it and then cover the bowl with some plastic wrap

Any warm place will work for the rise, but what I do is set my oven to "warm"  until it pre-heats which is about 170 degrees. Then I turn it off. Prior to putting my bowl in, I leave the door open for a moment and let it cool back a little bit. Then the dough goes into the oven, power off, for about an hour. When it's done, it should pretty much fill up your bowl:

In future posts I'll talk more about toppings, but now you have the foundation. By the way, when using the oven (as opposed to the grill) I always use a pizza stone that I preheat with the oven to 500*. Once the oven reaches that temp, I toss corn meal on the stone to prevent sticking. Cook time is about 10 minutes.

The finished product, is always good!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Racing Industry

 I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Some of my off-season planning includes deciding which races to run next year and that invariably brings me around to outfits that are in the business of putting on races. The nearest comparison I can think of is a concert promotion company. While the mode is different, both are basically in the entertainment industry.

I ran my first foot race in 1978 in my hometown of Greeley, Colorado. The United Bank Fun Run was the biggest race in town for years and it's 5 plus distance went over well and pretty much anyone who was part of the fledgling running community at the time was there.

In 1983, I ran in my first Bolder Boulder. It was the first year for that race's wave start and though still only its eighth year, it was a big deal. The venue through the streets of Boulder, the finish at Folsom Stadium, and the field of world class athletes all made it (and still do) the big race it is today.

What these two races, along with the myriad of others I ran over the years had in common were their amateur status. Though I suspect someone was "working" on the Boulder race just about year round, there really was not the professional organization behind it that's there now. The Fun Run was an all  volunteer event from the race director on down.

Today, of course, that has changed. My first event of the season was Summer Open Sprint which is produced by Without Limits Productions. The Creek Streak in July was organized by a non-profit but nevertheless professional organization called Your Cause Sports. Both the TriRock and this weekend's Rock & Roll Half Marathon are productions of Competitor Group, Inc. The big race in Boulder that I'm considering for next summer is one of dozens run by the World Triathlon Corporation.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Events that were once organized for fun and charity by volunteers who did it in their spare time are, more and more, professionally produced events. While some still do benefit charity, many have become for profit endeavors and include full time paid staff.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing. I actually appreciate the fact that there aspiring to elevate races to big events. Furthermore, doing so still has not seriously damaged the community-organized races as anyone who runs in their local Turkey Trot or July 4th race can attest. The issue with professionally produced events comes in the gap between the quality to which they aspire and the actual results they produce.

Past readers of these pages may recall my thoughts about race directors. I've also had more than a few things to say in my various race reports. This is not because I am an overly negative person or particularly enjoy delivering criticism. I'd like to think it's because I've spent my adult years as a good critical thinker and the thoughts I express here just reflect that.

In any case, when it comes to an event produced by an organization like the one of the ones mentioned above, my expectations increase. The first, and probably most blunt reason is cost. Races, triathlons in particular, are expensive affairs. No doubt, the overhead is not cheap either. Even with an army of unpaid volunteers making up the majority of an event-day staff, I have no doubt that equipment, event permits and most significantly, insurance all add up. Still at the end of the day, the production company is making a profit. My question is, did they really earn it?

I don't mean that in the "do they deserve it:" category since that's a far more subjective value judgement. Instead, think of it like the professional baseball player who hits .210 for the season but still pulls in an eight figure salary. Does his lackluster performance really rate the salary that drives things like ticket prices and television contracts? Unless he has some other intangible "wow" factor, probably not.

So in that vein, what does one get for a race entry fee from $130 and up? Most of us spend hundreds of hours and even thousands of dollars on our sport. We think about a race months ahead of time and the anticipation leading up to race day builds along with our expectations. From a hassle free packet pick-up to an enjoyable post race experience and everything encompassed in between, there has to be value for what I get.

Nordstrom is more expensive than most other department stores. Certainly more so than a Macy's or Dillards. What sets them apart? In other words, how do they get away with being pricier? To some extent it's due to higher quality merchandise (though some items have also become largely commoditised). More so, however, it's because they are unrivaled in the quality of their service. When you make a purchase at a Nordstrom store, you know they appreciate your business. The company is resplendent with stories of outstanding customer service.

Successful companies like Nordstrom got to where they are because they executed successfully. By the same token, an event production company risks losing participants due to sloppy execution of their events. This is only compounded by a high entry fee.

It's my hope that as the sport continues to grow and evolve, the more skilled, participant-focused companies will thrive while those that clearly aren't up to snuff will fade away. Such is the way of the open market place. In the triathletes and distance runners, these companies have a target market that is willing to spend big money, highly engaged in their sport and likely to generate return business. Shouldn't they have to work hard to generate more to their bottom line?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Look Back at the First Season - What I Learned

By crossing the finish line in San Diego last Sunday, I completed my first season of triathlons. All told the count was three tri's and one du (that one having originally been scheduled as a tri).

I've chronicled a lot of that in the last nine months or so and I don't plan to rehash it all here. That would be like watching a television show where an episode is mostly just a bunch of flashbacks to previous episodes. Not here.

However, there is something more to be gleaned from looking back at this first year: the most important things I've learned and what I'll talk with me going into my next year. So in no particular order, here's the list:

  1. A well-thought-out and faithfully executed plan is a road map to success. I made the decision to get into triathlons just as last season was coming to a close. It gave me lots of time to prepare and then tweak a plan to get ready. I made use of a lot of great online resources including Trifuel, Trinewbies and blogs like this one. While any plan needs to be flexible, having a fairly good idea of what you want to do and by when does much to drive success.
  2. There is nobility in working hard during the off season. No one completes a successful triathlon without a lot of hard work. I believe that is as true of a sprint as it is of a full Ironman (though granted I've never done the latter). It says a lot about your character and your perseverance to keep slogging out those early morning swims, long tedious rides on the trainer and runs in the bitter cold. The payoff is evident when you're in the event and you feel like you're prepared.
  3. Equipment is fun, but having the best stuff does not make you better. I'm a big fan of those Xtra Normal computer generated cartoons. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this one:

There's another along a similar vain in which one of the characters points out that triathlon causes diseases such as "major douche-bag syndrome" and "self important bitch-itis." That's too true. I would love to have one of those feather light carbon tri bikes with a really cool set of carbon wheels. They look like bikes from the future. Hell, I'd be happy with a new Garmin 310! But the fact of the matter is that the real work is done with your arms, your legs, your head and your heart (the later in both the literal and figurative sense). I've got just as much respect for the lady that finished last in the Greeley Triathlon riding an old heavy steel bike as I do for the guy with the $5000 set-up.

4. This sport is really addictive. After every race I finished, I found myself anxious for the next one. Even after this past Sunday when I knew the season was over, I felt a little urge to do more. There's something so cool about doing three sports. It's like we all get to be Olympic athletes for a short period. It is the Randian notion of man as heroic being in its very best sense. I can't wait for next season!

 5. The support of friends and family is the fuel that keeps this all going. My wife showed up to all four events I did this year. That meant some really early mornings just to take pictures and yell "Go Paul!" a few times as I ran in and out of transition. My parents and in-laws were also in attendance at various races. My nieces cheered me on to the finish of the Creek Streak. Even just the likes I got on Facebook regarding my status about doing a triathlon were encouraging. I'd still do all of this if no one cared, but it sure is nice to have so many people behind me.

So the season has ended. Lakes will soon be too cold for open water swims. The days are getting shorter and that means cycling after work will become more and more difficult before just becoming impossible. In my part of the world, there are very few events scheduled. Some already have their 2012 information up on their website.

For me, the next few weeks involve my prep for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon on October 9. I had a good 9 mile run this morning and followed it with any easy fifteen minute spin on my hybrid bike. Once the race is over I'm going to take a week and do nothing at all. Then it's time for off-season conditioning including the building of a big mileage base. I'm leaning toward trying a Half Iron Man next summer. I think I can do it, but I'm going to take a little more time to make that decision. And, of course, I've got a plan. Two of them in fact: one for conditioning and one for a HIM in August.

I think I'll still have a lot to write about on these pages. There's a little bit of travel (Hawaii in about six months for example) and plenty of stuff going on this winter. It's a time of year I tend to spend more time in the kitchen and I think that's going to find it's way here as a new blog feature.

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with more soon!